Saturday, October 14, 2017

new quilt, rebooted body and thoughts on butter

There was a shirtless selfie circulating last week.

"Wow, I'm thin now."

It was a random slice of life, a shot grabbed in a goofy moment. I was holding up a recently acquired Hawaiian scrap quilt, and my new body was showing. It was there in the mirror each day, but looking at a photo was something else. I thought, "Wow, I'm thin now."

The quilt is made out of Hawaiian fabrics, using an interlocking design that seems to be a variation of the pinwheel block. It is 44" x 54" and came from an eBay seller in Eureka, California. There is no batting or quilting, but it is backed, and the backing material is brought to the front for binding.

Lovely as it is, it will always be the quilt in the shirtless selfie, the end of a long journey, the rebooted body. If you want to lose a lot of weight, it makes a difference to pay attention to what you eat. Butter, for example. I love butter as much as anyone else, but it was probably a good idea to stop snacking on whole sticks of it in the form of shortbread and cheese straws.

Last night was a rare butter treat, garlic bread! It went well with the tomato based shrimp and scallop creole, insted of the usual white rice. Mom's garlic bread recipe is a compound butter. It has room-temperature butter, garlic, parmesan and parsley. I like to add other herbs, last night it was oregano and thyme. After unexpectedly dipping under my goal weight last week, it was nice to indulge is a hot, hearty meal. Wish I could eat like that every day, but at the same time, I'm glad I can't.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

a little more velvet

Velvet turns me on. It's not so much the way it feels, but the way it looks. I love how it catches the light. A few years ago I noticed a velvet dress made by Gretchen Jones on Project Runway, and the way it looked in the light made me sit up and take notice. It shimmered, but not like silk or satin.

The velvet dress by Gretchen Jones caught my attention on Project Runway.

Velvet quilts are not the easiest things to find, but I find them intriguing as Jones' orange velvet dress. Part of my process as a collector is to photograph acquisitions and share them. I can always depend on a velvet quilt to look good in a photograph.

This quilt, pictured at top, is all velvet including the backing. It is dated 1932, and there is also the letter "M" next to the date. It is unclear what the letter means. It could be anything from the initial of the quilt's owner to the letter of the month is was done, but these ideas are really just speculation. The embroidered date is done by hand in chain stitch.

The ring shapes - what are they all about?

Looking at other examples of velvet quilts including one in my collection, I notice there are often partial or full ring shapes in these quilts. If the rings were from garment scraps, what garments could've produced them? Perhaps collar cutaways?

One of my Facebook friends suggested the rings could be from hat making, and I liked the idea, but later thought they looked more like the brims than the cutaways. The storyteller in me would love to make up a tale about a secret society of velvet quiltmakers who used rings as a secret code, but there's already enough romanticism in quilt history. I'm happier just wondering.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Green Velvet

Crazy Quilt, velvets, unknown maker, Indiana, c. 1950, 66" x 79"

I love shiny things. When I saw this crazy quilt, it really caught my eye. The top was made with only one fabric, large patches of luminous green velvet. The patches were randomly pieced to create simple geometric designs within three columns. The velvet is embossed with a repeat wave design, and the patches are outlined with yellow hand stitching along each seam.

It appears to be from the mid-century period, c. 1950, and came from an eBay seller in Bedford, Indiana. There was no additional information with it, but it is 66" x 79", with no batting or quilting, and it is backed with coarsely woven green cotton fabric, brought from back to front for binding. The velvet gives it a hint of luxury even though the piece is kind of kitcshy. A cool find, and green is one of my favorite colors.

Monday, October 2, 2017

The stuff of legends, part 10: why make things up about quilts?

Do myths come from a lack of education?
Or are we really just avoiding the truth?
Why do people make up so many stories about quilts? Some experts say it is that quilts are so intriguing, there must be more to them. Others say it is due to a general lack of education in quilt history, a relatively new field. Both explanations seem plausible, but maybe there is another. Maybe it has something to do with topics we avoid in polite conversation. People's made-up stories about quilts -- the stuff of legends!

During the month of September, I celebrated back-to-school by posting this series of blogs about legends, myths, romantism and hoaxes in quilt history. It was gratifying to exchange messages with readers who already knew about the debunking of these tall tales. At the same time, it was sad to discover how many people did not know, and how willing they were to dismiss historical facts in favor of what they wanted to be true. I guess we need a little more time to spread the word.

"...people have sex on quilts!"

The other day I attended a quilt show and was chatting with a friend on my way out. During the conversation, something dawned on me.

"You know why people make up so many stories about quilts?" I asked, and she shrugged. "It's because people have sex on quilts!" She laughed. "No, seriously! People make things up to avoid talking about the real stories."

Obviously, the real stories behind the quilts are not always the stories we can tell. Myths about quilts do come from a lack of education, the desire to know the unknown-- but there is also the element of avoiding the truth. If you think about what really happens with quilts, perhaps it explains why some folks are happier embracing the myths.

Thank you to all the readers, especially those who commented and exchanged information about the stuff of legends during the month of September. I hope it was a productive and informative back-to-school month. 

Saturday, September 30, 2017

The stuff of legends, part 9: the evolving myth of the "humility block"

Flawed theory: the "humility block" is a romanticized myth gone viral.
Many of today's quiltmakers believe incorporating intentional mistakes in a quilt is paying tribute to an age-old, Amish tradition. The so-called "humility blocks" were intended to express the belief that only God was perfect. Charming story, but did they really do that? A romanticized myth gone viral, the humility block is the stuff of legends.

Was it an honest mistake?

A turn-of-the-century blue and white quilt with a repeat appliqué pitcher and bowl design has an obvious mistake. The appliqué is backwards in one block. Was it an honest mistake? Was it noticed too late and left in? It would be difficult to say because we don't even know who made the quilt. When you don't know the identity of the maker, making statements about intent is problematic.

This quilt appeared in "Why Quilts Matter: History, Art & Politics"

"Certainly the myth of putting the error in the quilt to express humility has not been proven,"said Lee Kogan, Curator Emerita of the American Folk Art Museum in an interview for "Why Quilts Matter: History, Art & Politics." "I think when you're making a quilt that has very complex patterning, it's likely that a slight deviation will take place here and there,"

"I have heard a lot of these stories," added Elizabeth Warren, Trustee and Guest Curator of the American Folk Art Museum. "I spent a lot of time debunking the myths, that for some reason keep reappearing and I don't know why." She thought possibly it had "something to do with people's view of quilts as something homey."

Amish crib quilt, c. 1900

Mistakes happen. You don't have to plan them.

The humility block is widely attributed to the Amish, but that's not what Amish people say. "I once asked an Amish quilter about the humility block thing citing the phrase '...since only God is perfect,'" said quiltmaker, teacher and author Pepper Cory in a reply to a post on Facebook. "She looked sideways at me and said, 'Yes, I heard about it. From an English (non-Amish) quilter. But I was never told that.' End of story."

"Similar to what I was told when I asked Amish ladies," said Pennsylvania quiltmaker and historian Barbara Garrett. "The most common comment: 'I read in a magazine that you all think that about us. That was the first I heard the idea." The Amish quiltmakers readily admitted mistakes happened, and you didn't have to plan them. 

"As a long time quilt maker I can attest to the fact that one does not have to try to make an error," said artist Joe Cunningham.

mistakes happen
If the quiltmakers of yesterday did not include humility blocks in their quilts, why would quiltmakers do it today? The story so charming, people want to believe it. So, they use it as a design element in their work. It may not make the myth more real, but it serves its own purpose. It canonizes the legend. Perhaps the best way to express humility is to do as the Amish actually do. Embrace unintended mistakes rather than making something more out of them.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

The stuff of legends, part 8: make-do quilts in America

Quilts in America did not originate as make-do objects.

Unpopular as the notion may seem, America's early quilts 
were objects of wealth, disposable income and free time, 
not signs of poverty. 

Its a stubborn myth, but someone's got to bust it. Quilts in America did not originate as make-do objects. They were not originally made out of necessity by the less fortunate. Many of them were not even made to keep the family warm at night. America's earliest bedcovers were primarily elegant objects, displayed by affluent European immigrant families as decorative furnishings in well-appointed homes. Unpopular as the notion may seem, America's early quilts were objects of wealth, disposable income and free time, not signs of poverty.

wholecloth quilt, c. 1790, New England

Make-do tendencies certainly existed, especially when colonists made their own materials out of available resources such as wool and flax. The frugal use of fabric also indicated the limited availability and steep expense of taxed, imported textiles. Mills were slow to open in the colonies but the industry would start to thrive by the 1840s. African slave labor turned cotton in to one of America's most important crops. Of course, there were many problems, leading to the Civil War.

wool with various tones from different dye lots, c. 1810, New England
The American Civil War was fought over slavery, but it could also be called the war fought over cotton. Tobacco was another cash crop but it was a luxury. Cotton was much more of a necessity, and while black slaves labored, white slaveowners prospered. That was the ugly reality about the burgeoning textile industry in the United States.

quiltmakers would make do if they ran out of fabric, but they tried to hide it

A few years ago, quilt historian Suzanne Swenson presented a lecture in Paducah at the AQS annual show. It was called“What Happened to Cotton and Quilting During the Civil War?” and the lecture gave historical perspective of the effects of the Civil War on the cotton industry, quilting, and people's lives. According to Swenson, the Civil War was not just a soldier’s war in the field, it was also a war of struggle and survival for the women on the home front suffering the material shortages of everyday life. 

The struggle was especially real for Southern women of the Confederate States. Swenson talked about what happened to all the American cotton, how much cotton made it through the southern blockades, where the North was getting its cotton to keep the mills running, and whether more quilts survived in the North or in the South. It was fascinating! (if I can ever find a link, I will share it)

a Southern, Civil War period quilt, elegant and warm

Even in the harsh political climate before and after the Civil War, Southern quilts were elegant objects. Improvisational style would eventually be seen in Southern quilts, but it arrived a little later with used clothing and scraps from the garment industry, more toward the turn of the century and later.

In a certain regard, make-do quilts, which could also be called scrap quilts or improvisational quilts, first emerged in the form of elegant Victorian crazy quilts; made from bags of sumptuous scraps purchased by refined ladies, who painstakingly pieced them together randomly, embellished them with fancy stitches learned at the finest finishing schools, and draped over the settees in the front parlors of their large Victorian houses. Make-do quilts in America, the stuff of legends.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

The stuff of legends, part 7: The Romance of Pattern Naming

"Drunkard's Path" c. 1890, sold to MSU Museum, MI.
"History would be much easier if 
everyone could get their stories straight."

The inclination to construct meanings for quilts leads to all kinds of stories about pattern names. "Drunkard's Path" is a prime example. The pattern is loaded with romantic baggage, but not everyone agrees on the story. It was included in the Underground Railroad Quilt Code hoax, said to indicate the irregular path slaves needed to use to avoid capture. It was also said to be a symbol of the Women's Christian Temperance Union, either invented or adopted by the organization to illustrate the path of the drunken husband, representing the evils of alcohol use.

Drunkard's Path is Brackman pattern #1461, from Ladies Art Company #46, published in 1895. There were several other names for the pattern, which appeared earier in some cases, but the publication date was around the turn of the century or later.

History would be much easier if everyone could get their stories straight. I would love it if people could take a time-out, and altogether stop making up stories about if that would ever happen! The temptation is irresistible, and it creates a blurry line between fact and fiction. When and where did pattern names originate? How did they become popular? What function did the names serve? The romance of pattern naming is the stuff of legends.

Shealy Family Quilt, c. 1870, South Carolina
There is little evidence to suggest pattern names were in use much before 1900. This information pretty much ruins the majority of romantic stories people tell about quilt pattern names, but it is all too easily swept aside when beliefs are held more dearly than historical facts. The real story, warts and all, is that many of the popular names for quilt patterns were products of the Colonial Revival and Depression era, when designers and copy editors assigned names as part of the marketing of patterns in newspapers and magazines.

Time to turn on the ultimate quilt mythology lie detector. 
Are there quilts, or not?

Patterns, such as the 1930 Mountain Mist "New York Beauty" came with fictional accounts presented as historical fact. According to the pattern description, New York Beauty was "...a very old pieced pattern dating from 1776."

Time to turn on the ultimate quilt mythology lie detector. Are there quilts, or not? Are there any examples of the complex, geometric pieced quilts known as New York Beauty from the Revolutionary War period? No. Are there comparable examples suggesting a trend toward complex geometric patchwork at the time? No, it did not appear until much later, around the 1840s in America. Were there any records documenting this patchwork design in 1776? No.

I spent more than 25 years collecting and researching quilts made with the pattern, and never found one made before the middle of the 19th century. The Mountain Mist date, 1776, was most likely chosen by the pattern designer because of its patriotism and obvious significance in United States history. The information was further embellished with a note about the original, inspiration quilt being red, white and blue.

Mountain Mist maintained a collection of quilts, which was recently acquired by the International Quilt Study Center & Museum. One quilt, an old pieced quilt is thought to be the inspiration quilt for the "New York Beauty" pattern. It was made in the late 1800s or early 1900s, but certainly not in 1776. Incidentally, it was red, white and green. Mountain Mist's story failed the lie detector test in more than one way.

1870s quilt made with a pattern that got its name later-
"Cross Roads to Bachelor's Hall"

Not really knowing was better than making up stories.

Last year, I co-authored a research article for the American Quilt Study Group newsletter with Marian Ann Montgomery, PhD, Curator of Clothing and Textiles at the Museum of Texas Tech University. The article was about the "Cross Roads to Bachelor's Hall" pattern. Research began with an unidentified quilt I'd found. It clearly predated the initial publication and naming of the pattern, which raised questions about the pattern and name origins. Not really knowing was better than making up stories. We do not know what the pattern was called before 1906, but we know the design existed. 

Cross Roads to Bachelor’s Hall was pattern number 2946 in the Encyclopedia of Pieced Quilt Patterns by Barbara Brackman, and was attributed to Clara Stone. The pattern appeared in Practical Needlework: Quilt Patterns, published in 1906 by C.W. Calkins & Company in Boston. The booklet was one of a series containing patterns originally designed by Clara Stone for periodicals published by Vickery and Hill Company in Augusta, Maine. 

Double Wedding Ring is another highly romanticized pattern name. Robert Bishop's 1989 book, The Romance of Double Wedding Ring Quilts collected and examined more than 50 quilts in the search for the origins of the pattern. Bishop did not find any Double Wedding Ring quilts made before 1890, and today, the time frame is easily corroborated through documentation records on the Quilt Index, an online database with more than 50,000 records. These facts are problematic for supporters of fantastical stories about the pattern. Most Double Wedding Ring quilts were made in the 1930s or later.

It may be terribly unromantic to say when and where pattern names originated, but it's better than making up or repeating implausible stories. Pattern names were products of the mass media, the Colonial Revival and the Great Depression. The names were created by pattern designers and copy editors for newspapers and magazines publishing quilt patterns, starting around the turn of the century. Be wary of any stories that say otherwise, especially without written documentation from the appropriate period. Pattern's the stuff of legends.